Posts Tagged “Religion”
I hold a rather remarkable historical document in my hand. It’s a text that, despite its age, is still well-known today. I refer to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of the seven genuine epics of Harry Potter.
We have more surviving copies of this than any other historical text from the late twentieth century. These include first editions written a mere five years after the events described. The copy I’m holding is from several years later, but we can still be confident that the text has been accurately preserved.
Growing up, I always liked the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. Now I see that it shows problems with God.
The words from Mendelssohn’s Elijah echo in my head:
If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me,
Ye shall ever surely find Me,
Thus saith our God.
It’s a song I like a lot (yes, still), and it seems like such a simple promise. But was it ever really true?
It is said that our Northern Hemisphere ancestors were familiar only with white swans. When they sat round the fire talking about the swans they had seen, there was no need to specify the colour: The mere concept of a black swan was absurd.
However, sometimes these things are a matter of perspective. I happen to come from a land Down Under where Christmas is in summer, where mothers hop around with their young in a pouch, where spiny mammals lay eggs, and where the swans are most distinctly black. And so it was many years before I first saw a white swan.
In popular culture, the rainbow flag has come to symbolise the LGBT movement, and I’ve heard relatives complaining this interferes with the “real meaning” of the rainbow. Some conservative Christians have called it “cultural appropriation”, while others have tried to “reclaim” it. However, the rainbow has been used for many things over many years and belongs to all humans, not just to Christians.
In these difficult times, almost everything seems to about Covid-19. It is a pandemic that is already bad and looks like getting a lot worse.
However, many Christians feel almost contractually obliged to look for the good side of the pandemic, and this just ends up showing the bad side of their religion.
In the Gregorian Calendar, today is February 29, a Leap Day. It only comes once every four years.
You’ll never believe what it tells us about God!
In the early 2010s, I’m sure my fellow Christadelphians saw in me growing knowledge and ability and a continued commitment to God. They must have thought that I was set for life, and was becoming the spiritual leader I was always meant to be.
And yet, this was the decade I outgrew my faith. My path was only leading in one direction, and that direction was away from religion.
Where did this disconnect come from? How could so many people be so wrong?
As I look back on the 2010s, I get a better perspective on how my deconversion worked and how much changed. Where my 2019 review will probably end up “2019 was a lot like 2018, but still different”, the difference for me between January 2010 and December 2019 is night and day.
At the start of the decade, I was preparing to speak at a Bible software development conference, and my commitment to my childhood religion was unquestioned by all, including me. By the end of the decade I had spent more than a third of it as a self-identified atheist, had started a blog where I wrote critically and at length about religion, was involved in several strongly anti-theistic communities, and was about as certain as I could be that I was never going back.
Last week, I went along to a local church’s Christmas play. Usually, it’s just a bit of fun for the children. I expected to hear claims about the True Meaning of Christmas, and was not disappointed (my take).
However, this time the superlatives were out. The Christmas story was “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. Baby Jesus was “The Greatest Gift Ever Given”. And this was all completely free, with no strings attached.
In the lead up to the Brexit referendum, several Christian groups claimed that the Bible predicted a Leave vote, including many Christadelphians. When the Leave vote succeeded, they were quick to claim this trivial prediction as a stunning validation of the complete Bible message and a sign of impending Armageddon. However, while Brexit still seems likely to happen in some form, this year has seen it throw the UK parliamentary process into chaos, with no clear end in sight.
While I don’t think scripture makes any statement on Brexit, I do think this saga has some important lessons about Bible prophecy interpretation that stretch far beyond Brexit. It’s all here: A crystal-ball gazing seer, Armageddon, even a reference to my favourite fiction from last year. Some of it is mocking, but I don’t apologise - if Christadelphians didn’t want that, they should have chosen something better than Brexit to nail their colours to the mast over.
Almost exactly halfway along the Pennine Way is a natural limestone bridge called “God’s Bridge”. This name makes me think about how much the gods have retreated as we discovered the things attributed to them actually have natural causes. And how much better we are to rely on ourselves than on the gods.
Recently, I saw a touring tattoo exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. Most of the tattoos shown were beautiful full-body tattoos, particularly the Japanese ones. However, the exhibition also reminded me how much my life has changed since leaving religion.
One of the dubious benefits of having been a lay preacher for over ten years is that Bible passages often remind me of talks I built on those passages. Recently, this happened with Ezekiel’s vision of God leaving his temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8 - 11).
Five years ago, I used that as the starting point for my “Dies Irae” exhortation. Ironically, I sub-titled it “Finding our Blind Spots”, but I now see that it was I who had the blind spot: The passage clearly showed the unpleasant behaviour of the God of the Bible, and I was so busy trying to find what we might have done wrong that I just couldn’t see it.
Last post, I asked whether my deconversion was inevitable, and decided that it felt pretty inevitable. However, obviously some people do hang onto their faith much longer than me, and I don’t think they’re being dishonest or stupid.
After quitting, I heard some suggestions from believers of things that might have kept me in the faith. There have also been some things I’ve seen in others that I’ve wondered whether they might have made a difference to me.
This year, I’ve been wondering whether my quitting was really as inevitable as it now seems. I’m sure to my fellow believers it was completely unexpected for an apparently committed believer to quit out of the blue. To me, looking back from outside the bubble, it just seems like an obvious progression from indoctrination to reality. But could a few changes in my life have affected the outcome? Or was someone like me always going to quit?
Yesterday, I wrote about why you should trust my interpretation of the Bible. But I’m sure it wouldn’t be complete without listing some reasons, both good and bad, why you should take my Bible interpretations with a grain of salt.
On this blog and elsewhere, I’ve written articles involving detailed and systematic interpretation of the Bible, most recently in a long series about how Christianity appropriated Judaism. I’m a former Bible student, but there are a multitude of interpreters of the Bible on the web, with perhaps nearly as many interpretations as interpreters. So it’s a reasonable question to ask: What makes my interpretation worth considering?
Alan Turing is something of a patron saint for my field. He is also well-known for his prosecution for homosexuality, and his more recent pardon. So when I saw that my local theatre was performing Breaking the Code, a 1986 play about his life, I made sure I went along. I expected to be both moved and upset by the treatment he received, and I was.
Recently, I heard some Christians discussing the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew 27. They were talking about how much he had gone through, and one said in a broken voice “He did all that for me”.
And I can remember feeling like that. But I now see that, like me, in focusing on Jesus they glossed over a verse far more tragic than any of those they talked about.
Overall, 2018 was a good year for me. Some things have changed, while lots of things have stayed the same. There were frequent hikes, frequent online discussions of religion and culture, frequent quests for knowledge keeping me up to ridiculously late hours, and lots of music and reading.
I said at the start of 2018 I wanted to share more photos, and then didn’t. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of the nearly 10,000 photos I took.
Christianity claims to be the logical continuation of Judaism - Judaism Plus. Which ends up with it trying to replace Judaism. I’ve discussed many of the problems I see with this claim in previous posts.
But I think for Christians who hold it there’s one more glaring problem: How do they know their religion hasn’t been similarly replaced by another religion?
On Christmas Eve, 1968 - fifty years ago today - the Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon. The three astronauts inside it were the first humans to leave the direct gravitational influence of the Earth, the first to orbit the moon, and the first to look back on the entire Earth. Understandably, it has since been overshadowed by the first moon landing seven months later - but it’s still an incredibly impressive achievement.
The conflict between Christianity and Judaism didn’t just stop with the New Testament. They remained rival religions, and as Christianity gained more power it built on that New Testament foundation with terrible results. When I look in the writings of church fathers, kings, popes, and leaders of the reformation, time and again I see the same verses and concepts I highlighted in the previous two posts popping up - and the results aren’t good.
The gospels and Acts tell a story of how Christianity spread from Jews to the Gentiles. The epistles spend more time nailing down the theology of the takeover, plus taking opportunities for not-so-subtle digs at Jews who hadn’t accepted the new message.
In this post, I discuss three key epistles:
- Romans (where Paul sidelines the law in favour of grace and faith).
- Galatians (where Paul particularly attacks the Jewish idea that circumcision is required for salvation, and in passing appropriates many elements of Jewish religion).
- Hebrews (where the author presents Jesus as the answer to everything in the law and the prophets).
I also include some of the most relevant verses from other epistles.
In the gospels, Jesus is presented as the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the Jewish prophecies and bringing a new covenant with God. Though he is very popular with the common people (mostly Jews), and though he selected Jewish disciples to carry on his message, there are also many disputes with the Jewish authorities, culminating in his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. And the Jewish people are explicitly made to take responsibility for this death.
Then in Acts, the conflict escalates as the message is spread across the Roman empire and preached to the Gentiles. Again, this preaching work is mostly done by Jews, often preaching to Jews, but there is also a lot of conflict with Jews who don’t accept the new message. Both Jesus and his disciples appropriate Jewish scriptures to condemn Jews, displaying a hostility to Christianity’s roots that is best explained by the perceived threat of Judaism as a rival religion.
As a believer, I came to the conclusion that replacement theology was the best interpretation of the relevant New Testament texts (discussed here). However, now after re-reading a lot of the relevant texts I see this as an attempted hostile takeover of Judaism. Not only did the New Testament authors appropriate important parts of the Jewish religion, but they also displayed contempt for those Jews who would not follow them. And I was shocked by how frequent and virulent the criticism was, because I just never saw it reading those texts as a believer.
The New Testament claims that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, which apologists are quick to use as proof that he is the Jewish Messiah sent by God. However, as I pointed out in my previous post, many Jews don’t accept these prophecies. I have my doubts about them too. So how do they stack up?
Many Christians consider Christianity the logical conclusion of Judaism (a kind of Judaism Plus). They share the same God, and the Jewish scriptures are said to point forward to Christianity and Jesus Christ as God’s final revelation. So why do many observant Jews reject Christianity?
As discussed in my previous post, the role of Israel today was one area where I came to different conclusions from many Christadelphians. This led me to accept the much-vilified “replacement theology”.
To many Christadelphians, the return of Israel to their land is considered the go-to argument in support of the Bible. The Christadelphian even has as its tag-line ‘A magazine dedicated wholly to the hope of Israel’. But how does this relate to Israel today?
Seventy years ago today, the British Mandate over Palestine ended and the state of Israel was declared. Christadelphians were delighted, seeing in this the fulfilment of promises made thousands of years ago that one day Israel would return from exile. It was expected that Jesus would soon return, an expectation that was heightened 19 years later by Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.
However, while much has changed about Israel since then, there has been no return of Jesus and no establishment of world government from Jerusalem with compulsory religious teaching. While Israel has religious elements, it is a secular state which has made major contributions to the technology of the world. And one of the consequences of that new technological world is that many former believers, including me, have found it easier to discover the problems with our religion.
Many Christian denominations encourage children to make a commitment to Christianity before they are old enough to make an informed decision. This is then supposed to create a binding and unbreakable commitment to Jesus and often to your particular denomination, with the threat of specially severe future judgement if you ever walk away from it.
Over Easter, I listened to the audio-book Risen, a novelisation of the 2016 film of the same name. It shows the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of Clavius, a skeptical Roman tribune assigned to find the missing body. The movie trailer confidently declares it “The most important man-hunt in history”.
It’s an interesting premise, and would be a decent novel if it focused on the story-telling. Unfortunately, though, it makes it quite clear that it’s got an agenda, and it makes far too many assumptions about the historicity of the gospel records.
Two years ago, I gave my final exhortation at my home ecclesia, and last year I wrote about the experience. This year I’d like to talk about an interesting fact I noticed that I wasn’t comfortable sharing with the congregation.
I have been asked by a number of Christadelphians whether I will ever return. Depending on how the question is asked, my answers have ranged from “I don’t see any path back” to “I don’t rule it out”. But I think it very unlikely that I will ever return to being a Christadelphian. Here’s why.
2017 has been an interesting year, mostly continuing on with life changes I began after leaving religion and particularly after returning home from a long trip to the UK. I started a blog, did plenty of hiking, and continued to discover how well these two fit together. Compared to 2016, I’ve stayed much closer to home, but have still found plenty of boundaries to push.
Here in Australia, it’s Christmas time. The houses sport Christmas lights, the streets have Christmas decorations, and the shops are filled with busy shoppers buying gifts or completing their Christmas preparations.
But, in among the many Christmas traditions, one religion claims to have the true meaning of Christmas: A true meaning that has little to do with all the bustle and confusion. In past years, I made this claim myself. But how does it measure up?
I’ve described how my search for certainty about the existence of God led me away from traditional apologetics to atheism, most recently when talking about the three gaps theory.
However, there was a time when I actively preferred faith to evidence or argument, because it told me so much more about God. At that time you could reasonably have called me a fundamentalist Bible basher, and yet I already knew many of the nuances that would later lead me away from faith.
Continuing my evaluation of the three gaps theory, today I look at what it can tell us about six different reasons to believe the Bible (taken from the popular Christadelphian book The Way of Life).
As with the philosophical arguments yesterday, you can reasonably assume that I do not think any of the arguments presented here are compelling. All I am trying to consider is which gaps each argument could bridge if it were true.
There are many philosophical arguments for the existence of a god. In this post I am going to evaluate what the three gaps theory can tell us about four of these arguments.
I am not trying to find whether the arguments are correct (you can reasonably assume that I do not think any of them compelling). All I am considering for each argument is “Even if I accepted this argument, what is the most it could tell me about God?”
As a believer, I found it difficult to address or dismiss intellectual arguments for God’s existence, even when I doubted his presence. Though over time I did reject some of the arguments, I never did a systematic evaluation. I think I was concerned about whether I would get stuck: What if I couldn’t dismiss the intellectual arguments, but they didn’t help me recover my lost confidence?
One of the things that helped most to evaluate those arguments was a theory that I imaginatively call the “three gap theory”. It showed me clearly why common intellectual arguments couldn’t provide me all the certainty I needed to remain a Christadelphian.
I haven’t been asked this question directly, but I’ve had hints of it and seen others asked it. Those who ask it are in essence saying: OK, great. You had serious doubts, then you quit. And now you’re happier as a result. But it’s all over. Why do you keep dwelling on past experiences? Can’t you just move on?
I find it curious that those with the strongest faith think they know best how people should handle losing their faith. But I think the question is actually a silencing tactic. Believers find it inconvenient when former believers write about their experiences and what they have learned, so they want to shut it off as soon as possible. And, in case this post doesn’t make it clear, I object to the idea of being silenced.
One hundred years ago today, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, a statement which supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. Christadelphians who expected the Jews to be supported by the British in a return to the land of Israel immediately seized on it, particularly since the British were advancing against the Ottoman Empire through Palestine. They have continued to view it as important, though I’m not sure how much effect it had on the formation of the state of Israel.
Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg, defiantly signalling the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and the end of the Catholic Church’s domination of the Christian world. Forthwith, believers would be free to study the scripture by themselves, and to be reconciled to God by faith without requiring the Church as an intermediary. Now is a time for believers to celebrate the importance of the Reformation and the advancement of the unity of the gospel.
That’s the story, anyway. Like much history, the reality is perhaps a bit more prosaic. Some thought Luther went too far and worked to have him excommunicated, while other reformers thought he didn’t go far enough and retained too many Catholic inventions. My own denomination thought that the Reformation wasn’t far enough back, and that we should return to the teachings of the first century church to better reflect True Christianity. Holy Wars were kindled, and an earnest desire for truth led to division (a story that has played out many times since).
In my previous post, I talked about the difficulty of being stuck in limbo by doubts that could not be resolved. Here is a list of some of the books that helped me out of that trap. They are the books that I wish I had read earlier (though I’m not sure I would have accepted their message earlier).
Many Christians say that the worst thing you can do when encountering difficulties is to stop attending church and cut yourself off from the community. And there is probably some sense to it: you don’t want to give up at the first hurdle.
But this philosophy kept me bogged in damaging doubts for years. My whole foundation had crumbled, and nothing made sense any more. I was still attending, but my doubts were so strong that no message in the church had the power to move me. Any weak arguments would remind me of the problems I saw and drive me further away.
Eventually it became clear to me that hanging on was useless as it couldn’t return me to faith. A sense of community was no substitute for truth, and I needed to leave to be true to myself.
Last month I attended an Australian Youth Orchestra concert. It included a performance of the Compassion song cycle by Nigel Westlake and Lior Attar, which is music I would highly recommend (their album won the 2014 ARIA Best Classical Album award).
The song cycle includes Arabic and Hebrew texts on compassion, drawn from the Tanach, the Mishnah, and the Hadith. As a result, some have suggested that it could reach across barriers in the Middle East, and remind Jews and Arabs of their shared values. But that got me thinking: How much can a few brief passages really express the main message of a sacred text?
Various atheist sites I visit comment about the curious fact that, while Christians in the US form the majority and dominate public discourse, many consider themselves to be persecuted. Often this “persecution” seems to be society not allowing them to impose their religious opinions on non-believers. Well, a friend shared an article with similar claims from a Hindu in India, including specific objections to those who eat beef. I think the parallels with Christianity are worth discussing.
Often when using BPBible I needed to find the particular verse I was thinking of (exactly what search is designed for). Unfortunately, though, I didn’t always remember the exact wording of the verse, and even when I did the words I used might have been from a different version from the one I was searching. Nowadays, I’m much more likely to turn to Google to help me, since it turns out that with the help of the Internet they have solved the problem pretty well.
Fifty years ago today, on the third day of the Six Day War, Israel captured the Wailing Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Old City of Jerusalem, giving them complete control of Jerusalem (which they retain to this day). At the start of the war, Israel’s existence had been threatened, but they came out of the war with a much firmer control of the entire area.
This may have been the high point of Christadelphian apocalyptic expectation. A mere 19 years before, Israel had returned to their land, and now with Jerusalem captured the time of the Gentiles was fulfilled. Everything was in readiness for Christ’s return, which must surely happen soon. There was a sudden spike in numbers of baptisms as young people rushed to make sure they would not miss out.
However, all these events happened long before I was born, and fifty years on there is still no return.
On this day last year, I wrote a formal resignation letter, bringing an end to 14.5 years as an officially baptised Christadelphian member, and even longer as part of the Christadelphian community. Tonight I’ve been trying once again to get a feel for what the whole process meant to me.
I have much to say, but it’s late and I can’t get control of it now. So for now just a brief response (well, brief for me). Past history suggests I may come back to this at great length, or I may never get to it.
Two months ago, full moon found me up Mount Buffalo, camping near Lake Catani. Last month it found me at the top of my street, out to admire the street lights of nearby suburbs stretched out below me. Tonight, it found me walking in the Dandenong Ranges, admiring the ghostly tree ferns and gums.
Walking at night, whether in moonlight, starlight, or complete dark, is probably not something our modern urban life-style encourages (even the simple street lights in my outer suburb outshine the full moon). But it’s something I’ve been trying to do more of, since it provides peace and solitude in a very different way from daylight hiking. And writing about it also provides a slight break from a stream of religious posts (though it’s not entirely free from them: stick round for the religious conclusions).
In a number of places, the Bible contains different accounts of the same event that seem to contradict each other. However, if you are willing to assume that these contradictions are not actually contradictions, it is usually possible to figure out an explanation that reconciles them. And sometimes these reconciliations reveal a richer story with deeper lessons than we could have got from the individual stories. But can we rely on these stories?
Well, I’ve talked about the resurrection narrative, and I’ve talked about the birth narrative, so now seems a good time to talk about the trial and crucifixion narrative. This is mostly for completeness: unlike the birth and resurrection, the stories contain few supernatural claims, and it doesn’t seem so surprising that someone claiming to be the Messiah and upsetting established authorities might end up being crucified.
In a previous post, I stated that I don’t think we have enough evidence to demonstrate the resurrection of Jesus. And I don’t think this is likely to change. I can’t imagine what additional evidence could surface that would overcome the uncertainty of such an extraordinary historical claim.
But what about if there was a way to demonstrate it, once and for all? Time travel, for example. Would you take it? And if so, what might you learn from it?
A few days ago, I discussed a positive case for the resurrection story having grown over time. There is a similar case for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem being a later addition, though it’s a lot simpler: Only Matthew and Luke make explicit claims about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, they have completely separate stories, and prophecy gives a good reason for them to want to claim a birth in Bethlehem.
Today is Easter Sunday. A time when many Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For some, it is just a matter of faith: they are completely confident that their Lord was raised, and no evidence is required. For others, this is considered one of the strongest arguments for the truth of Christianity. In fact, some skeptics who have attempted to disprove it came to the conclusion the evidence is too strong, and became outspoken Christian apologists.
A few days ago, I questioned the argument that I considered the weakest: that 500 believers saw the resurrected Christ at one time. It was always my intention to go back and address the entire resurrection claim, and discuss why I don’t consider it compelling.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about my experience speaking at BibleTech in 2010. One of the biggest problems I had was trying to cover too much. In my talk I spoke about Bible software and usability: Why we should care about personal notes and why Bible software couldn’t just replace paper.
What I want to discuss in this post is my own personal vision: What I had already implemented in BPBible, and what my future plans were. Though it was meant to be an important part of my talk, none of it ended up covered at BibleTech.
In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to 500 brothers at one time. With Easter coming up this week, this is one of the resurrection claims that will be talked about as historical fact. Believers lean heavily on this record because it is viewed as a very early creed with no time for embellishment. But can it bear the weight?
Recently, I reflected on my experience speaking at BibleTech in 2010. The key starting point for my talk was that lots of people were doing Bible study using paper Bibles, word processors, and other general tools. Why weren’t they using our specially designed Bible software? Was there something wrong in the way we designed software? Or were our users wrong for not realising how much better our software was?
I think this mind-set illustrates a key problem with technology-led solutions. It’s very tempting as a software developer to think that if we take an existing process and replicate it exactly in software it will end up better. But what we actually find is that we were unable to replicate it exactly. Sometimes this leads to complaints, other times the system we build is just ignored.
While both Bible software and technology have changed a lot since 2010, I think the key usability principles I talked about then still apply.
From mid-2012 to mid-2016 I was the editor of Salt Cellar: a magazine for Christadelphian young people in Melbourne. One year ago today, I produced my final Salt Cellar and wrote my final editorial. It contained an important message about seeking out truth, though that message was concealed behind scriptural wording. Now I can reveal the real message behind the editorial.
In my last post, I mentioned that I spoke at BibleTech:2010 about user annotations in Bible software. In this post, I want to talk about why I felt support for personal notes was important, and why it wasn’t enough to just use someone else’s notes.
Anniversaries have helped me reflect on what my religion meant to me, and today marks a significant anniversary. Seven years ago I spoke at BibleTech:2010 on “Improving User Annotations in Bible Software”. Let me tell you a little about it.
While I haven’t personally been asked this question, I’ve seen it hinted at online in various forms. I think there are quite a few different motivations for asking the question, each leading to a different answer, but I’ll try to do them all justice here.
Last Saturday I climbed Feathertop (the second tallest mountain in Victoria). This is a fairly remote peak, with few signs of civilisation other than the trail that had brought us to the top.
Up there, I found a family taking lots of different group pictures on various cameras and phones. They particularly caught my attention when one of them said: Has your phone got coverage? Good. Send that photo to your brother and wish him a happy birthday from on top of the world.
Atheism gets a lot of bad press (much of it in my opinion unjustified). I imagine my hypothetical questioner saying “I know you’re no longer a Christadelphian, and maybe you’re not even Christian, but surely you’re not an atheist?”
One year ago today, I gave my last exhortation at my home ecclesia (and it had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day…). Now that time seems a world away, but here are some reflections on that exhortation:
How I could give an exhortation at all while very near to quitting.
Reflections on the importance of careful and accurate Biblical exposition, a puzzling Bible contradiction, a failed Psalm, Biblical propaganda, generational change in Melbourne Christadelphia, and fighting the long defeat.
Every year is a new adventure and a step into the unknown. For me, though, 2016 was less of a step and more of a leap into a completely different world. So here are some thoughts on what the year meant to me.